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By Phil Stewart
BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Organisers of Afghanistan's presidential run-off will be able to reduce but not eliminate the kind of election fraud which marred the initial vote, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan said on Friday.
"I do not expect I will be able to eliminate fraud in two weeks' time. I think that is beyond the realm of what is possible in such a short time," Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide said during a NATO meeting of defence ministers in Bratislava.
"But I what I do expect, and what we will try to do, is to reduce the level of fraud."
Incumbent Hamid Karzai this week agreed to the November 7 run-off against Abdullah Abdullah, his former foreign minister. A U.N.-led fraud inquiry invalidated enough of Karzai's votes from the August 20 first round to push him below 50 percent and trigger the second round under Afghan electoral law.
Eide's former deputy Peter Galbraith, who was fired last month, has challenged Eide's credibility, complaining he turned a blind eye towards the extent of the fraud in the August vote.
Eide on Friday called Galbraith a "footnote in the electoral history of Afghanistan." He said he was proud authorities were able to properly detect fraud in the initial round of voting.
The runoff should be able to produce "a legitimately elected president and can form a competent government," Eide said.
But he added more election observers were needed and backed the call by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan for more troops.
Taliban attacks deterred many from voting in August.
"It (security) has not overall improved since we had the initial elections in August ... although in some provinces perhaps (it is) slightly better," he said.
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Eide said the independent election commission had assured him that polling station workers who had been directly involved with fraud, or who worked at polling stations where significant polling fraud occurred, would not work in the runoff.
There would be just 50,000 to 60,000 polling staff in the runoff election, down from 160,000 in August, he said.
Eide dismissed the possibility that reducing the number of workers would hamper the vote. He said fewer polling stations were required, since the August vote also included local polls.
He called for a public awareness campaign. "Many Afghans believe the elections are over and cannot understand that you need a second round," he said.
Karzai is widely expected to win the second round, largely because of his strong support among fellow Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. He remains popular with many Afghans who see him as an experienced leader.
Abdullah is half Tajik and half Pashtun and is seen by some as a unifying candidate who can cross divisive ethnic lines.
(Editing by David Brunnstrom)

Reuters